My Sis: Pooping Machine to Pretzel Baker


This is Alexis. My 10-year-old sister/mini-me.

 She was born when I was almost 15, so I watched this girl grow from a pooping machine–to a tattle tale–to a little baker and craft addict that she is today.

Once a month I invite her over to spend the night for some sisterly bonding. We dine out, take her to do some fun kid activity (this time we chose dodge ball trampolining) and bake.

In the past when “we’ve” baked together, I would demonstrate how to measure flour or to beat an egg properly, but she’d lose interest and end up in the living room to make “crafts”–taping long pieces of paper together with one of my wrapped tampons on the end–as a toy for our cat. (Yes it’s weird. But tampons are the cat’s fave and there’s no stopping her.) To see what I mean, see figures 1-3.

Figure 1: Alexis finishing up kitty's tampon toy. Kitty, to the left, watching from afar.

Figure 2: Tampon toy close up, already disheveled with bite marks.

Figure 3: Tampon toy in action, kitty lurking in the shadows.

So… I gave up trying to bake with Alexis and instead supported her “craft making” as a hobby. (Thankfully, she took up knitting and made a nice scarf for the cat instead.)

But this last visit, something suddenly changed. She insisted that we make soft pretzels and coffee cream brownies, and that “we have to go to the store now to get flour, butter and whipping cream, and chocolate chips, and and and…”

Well excuuuuuse me, little missy. But being the amazing big sister that I am, I complied. Yes, I was skeptical that once we got in the kitchen history would repeat itself. I gave it a chance because my mom told me that Alexis recently baked an apple pie all by herself, and my dad said that she has been baking so much that with his gallbladder issues he can’t possibly eat everything she makes–so he was forced to put a stop to it.

And thankfully, they were right! Phew. Alexis dominated the kitchen and those pretzels. She recently discovered baking tutorials on YouTube, which revived her interest for baking. Apparently watching her big sis give a baking tutorial IN PERSON doesn’t cut it. Oh well.

Now that she’s an independent baker, I just need to get her trained on cleaning up a mess…

Homemade Soft Pretzels

This recipe is from Alton Brown, Food Network, and got 5 star reviews: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/homemade-soft-pretzels-recipe/index.html

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 package active dry yeast

22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups

2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil, for pan

10 cups water

2/3 cup baking soda

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Pretzel salt (We used Fleur de Sel)

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.

Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

The dough just after mixing.

The dough after it has risen 50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

It might seem like a lot of baking soda...because it is.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 to 12 equal pieces.

Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.

Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Freaking. Yum.

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Spicing up Monday with Spiced Oat Bran Muffins


Happy Monday!

Not.

These are my least favorite words to hear each week, and should you ever say them to me, I will likely hate you (Especially this particular Monday, because I watched Paranormal Activity last night and ended up awake all night in fear that demons were going to get me).

Today also happens to be Halloween, a day that is supposed to be filled with excitement and lots of candy. Halloween=exciting, Monday=not. Monday + Halloween=fun? I’m not certain that sort of equation is possible.

In an effort to sort of meld the two together and make Monday=fun and exciting, I coordinated a day of good eats with my coworker. She agreed to make a chicken tortilla soup for us to share at lunch, and I agreed to bring the homemade bread, a salad with as many toppings as possible to up the “exciting” factor, and spiced oat bran muffins for breakfast.

I chose to make oat bran muffins because 1. They’re healthy and will cancel out the loads of candy I’ll likely eat tonight, and 2. Novin bought about 1oo pounds of oat bran and decided after about a week that he didn’t like it anymore. (Novin, maybe it’s because you eat it dry out of a plastic beer mug as you’re driving to work and inhale the flakes by accident? Just a guess…)

It’s still too early in the day to tell how this Monday will pan out, and I’m not sure the muffins alone can save the day, but if nothing else–at least I had a good breakfast.

Can you even find the muffin on my desk of shame?

Ingredients

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup white flour (I used bread flour, but all-purpose flour should work fine)

1 1/2 cups oat bran

2 tsp baking flour

2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

1 cup applesauce

4 T canola oil

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground orange peel

1/4 tsp ground clove

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup soy milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, add dry ingredients and spices. Mix together well. Then add honey, egg, applesauce, vegetable oil and soy milk and mix until well blended.

Line a muffin tin with muffin cups, and spray with non-stick. Fill muffin cups 2/3 of the way full with batter and bake for 15 minutes or until cooked through and golden brown.

Serve with a smear of honey, your favorite jam, nut or pumpkin butter or just plain. Enjoy!




Surviving Friday Night Bingo with Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes and Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting


I love to do dorky things. My dorky Friday night activity was playing Bingo with friends at our local Bingo hall, drinking coffee in styrofoam cups and cheap boxed wine. And yes, the majority of the people there were no younger than 75. Now this isn’t your usual, fun, light-hearted bingo. This is serious bingo. If Bingo could be on crack, this would be it. The caller spews out numbers so fast that if you miss one–it’s all over–you lost your chance. The dedicated regulars who gamble hundreds of dollars use an automated computer that allows them to sit pretty until the computer tells them when they win. I swear they only call out three numbers and someone already yells out “BINGO!” Meanwhile, I’m three numbers behind, trying to catch up by hand with my ink marker, sweating on my $6 bingo cards made of thin, recycled paper. I swear the game is rigged.

I knew this intense activity would require lots of energizing snacks to keep us going through the stressful three-hour Bingo session. I’ve been having intense cravings for pumpkin desserts and thought spiced pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon cream cheese frosting would be a perfect treat to keep us going–if we had a quick break to take a bite, that is.

With the Portland Marathon in just TWO DAYS, I didn’t even bother trying to lighten up the recipe. I’ll be needing the extra calories for 26.2 miles. Bring it on!

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Allrecipes.com recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/pumpkin-spice-cupcakes/detail.aspx

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup rice milk (just because I am allergic to milk protein, but any type of milk you choose will work great)
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease 24 muffin cups, or line with paper muffin liners (I just used wax paper and made 12 bigger cupcakes). Sift together the flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove, allspice, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.
  2. Beat 1/2 cup of butter, the white sugar, and brown sugar with an electric mixer in a large bowl until light and fluffy. The mixture should be noticeably lighter in color. Add the room-temperature eggs one at a time, allowing each egg to blend into the butter mixture before adding the next. Stir in the milk and pumpkin puree after the last egg. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin cups.

4. Bake in the preheated oven until golden and no longer wet in the middle, about 25-35 minutes. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing to cool completely on a wire rack.

5. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by beating the cream cheese and 1/4 cup butter with an electric mixer in a bowl until smooth. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar a little at a time until incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon; beat until fluffy. Once the cupcakes are cool, frost with the cream cheese icing.

6. Share with friends and family, and enjoy! (If you omit the frosting, add some chopped nuts or flax seeds and replace 1/2 cup of the white flour with whole wheat flour, you’ve got a great breakfast muffin!)

BJ putting on a show for me to express her enjoyment of the cupcakes.

Cupcakes+bingo=perfect combo.

PJ doesn't like cupcakes, so he stuck with the gummy worms...

Novin likes my cupcakes.

Cheers to a fun night!

KitchenAid mixer test run…with Breakfast Zucchini Bread


My birthday present from my boyfriend

Tomorrow is my 25th birthday, but my boyfriend (Novin) decided to give me my present a week early. I opened it with excitement, knowing full well it was a KitchenAid mixer–he’s so predictable (Just kidding, baby!).

There it was, shiny, lime green and beautiful, just as I had imagined it. We immediately brought it downstairs, plugged that baby in, and–nothing but a disappointing grinding sound. The beaters would not spin (I guess that’s my punishment for opening my present early). After Novin made a few annoying calls to KitchenAid and a late-night trip to Macy’s, I now have a working mixer just in time for my birthday.

Naturally, after purchasing a brand new, $200+ mixer that didn’t work, Novin now has doubts about the quality of the mixer. (At least it’s pretty!) He keeps stressing that I “need” to follow the manual and “must NOT” exceed the power levels indicated in the manual or it will, in fact, exhaust the motor and break. So, I’ve decided to test out Mixey with something easy, to strengthen his muscles so one day soon, he should be prepared to mix thick bread doughs and pizza crusts. You can do it, Mixey!

Novin walks in the door just as I’m getting started, and begins consulting “the manual.” “Don’t go past speed 6,” he says. Awww…poo.

Since I’m up to my eyeballs in zucchini from our garden, and I somehow inherited human head-sized zucchini from my grandfather’s garden, I thought a zucchini bread recipe would be appropriate for my first blog.

This zucchini bread is great for breakfast since it contains flax seeds and wheat bran to keep you going through the morning. You can also add pecans or walnuts for protein. This recipe contains half the amount of oil of a typical zucchini bread, replaced with applesauce.

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 1/2 cups raw cane sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups grated zucchini
Directions
  1. Generously spray two 8 x 4 inch pans with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
  2. Sift flour, wheat bran, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
  3. Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and flax seeds until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  4. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.